Posted by Editor on 07/24/09
Mont Ste Anne World Cup - New courses make it tougher than ever
This coverage is brought to you by Shimano
After a break of over a month, action resumes in Canada this weekend at the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano, with back-to-back weekends of racing for all three disciplines. This weekend, the World Cup returns to one of the true classic venues of the sport - Mont Ste Anne, Quebec. Home to the 2008 women's cross-country World Cup champion Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), Mont Ste Anne has been on the circuit since the beginning of the World Cup in 1991, and next year will host the world championships for the second time.
If there is one thing of note, it is that all of the race courses, regardless of discipline, have changed. Much of this has been done in anticipation of next year's Worlds. In the back of the organization's mind must be that 2009 is, in many respects, a dry run for next year.
According to Race Director Patrice Drouin there were two factors for the course revisions. The first was input from many riders about improvements over the courses that had been in place for the past few years. The second was that much had to be done to improve spectator access and reduce congestion around the start/finish. From what can be seen, mission accomplished. There are great new courses and much more open space near the finish and expo areas.
Downhill Preview and Qualifying
The weekend will open on Saturday with the Downhill, on one of the longer courses of the World Cup circuit. The wet summer that the region has been experiencing will make the lower wooded parts of the course even more muddy and slippery than usual, and that after the riders have worked their way through a newly built and more technical upper section. Much attention has been paid to drainage. It's a good thing too, as it has been a very wet summer in Quebec, and rain is expected for race day. Up the mountain rain and wind brought the temperature down considerably from the bottom as the clouds shredded across the peak.
DH qualifying was a tough task on the racers thanks to very unusual course conditions. As mentioned, it has been raining at the top of the course but, other than a few drops, nothing much has fallen at the bottom. Case in point was fastest qualifier Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain): “I didn't have a good run. I was too slow. It had rained at the start and I was too careful. As I got lower it became much faster. Overall, I could be much faster. It's an awesome track and I want to win here.” Jonnier's time was 5.28.34.
Finishing second was Mio Suemasa (FunFancy.jp), 0.81 seconds back, and in third was Celine Gros (Morzine-Avoriaz 74) at 5.59 seconds. Top Canadian qualifier was National Champion Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense) in seventh, 9.50 seconds back. Buchar was happy with her run. “I took it easy. The flow is good here so I enjoyed myself. I'm saving it for tomorrow. I like the changes to the course. It is faster and flows better. The mud is also holding up well right now. They've done a lot of maintenance on the course. I hope it doesn't rain more because it will be really gnarly.”
Others Canadian women who qualified for the Final are Rebecca McQueen (9th), Micayla Gatto (13th) and Danice Uyesugi (18th).
Going into tomorrow's race, Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) holds a commanding lead in the overall standings over countrywoman Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Centre), with round one winner Tracy Moseley (Trek World Team) a distant third.
The men's series remains a battle between Santa Cruz Syndicate teammates Greg Minnaar - the series leader - and Steve Peat, who this year set a new record for World Cup victories, and will be looking for his fiftieth World Cup podium appearance in Mont Ste Anne. Going up against them will be perennial favourite Sam Hill (Monster-Specialized) - still looking for his first win of the season - plus, world champion Dan Atherton (Animal-Commencal) and the resurgent Fabien Barel (Subaru), who has come back from a knee injury to become the only rider to beat Minnaar and Peat this season.
As with the women, the course conditions at the top of the hill are creating some issues. The first victim was the first racer down the hill, Greg Minnaar, who suffered a flat. “I don't know what happened. It was in the first section of woods. I was having a fast run and the next thing I know the tire's flat.” He was able to finish the course, but not in a competitive manner, qualifying in 151st. As a top 20 ranked rider he is allowed to race the Final, albeit with a less than favourable start place. Minnaar was running an unusually narrow front tire with huge spikey knobs, combined with a wide rear tire. The set up is very reminiscent of off-road motorcycles. Perhaps the narrow front tire was ultimately the issue.
Minnaar's mishap was to the benefit of Hill who clocked the fastest time of 4:34:02, and Minnaar's teammate Steve Peat, in second at 7:03 seconds. Peat always does well at Mont Ste Anne. “I had a good run. I'm a bit tired now, but I think my chances are good here. If anything, the changes to the course have made it a bit easier, but also faster. There are more berms and some of the sections in the woods are easier. I'm going to step it up a bit tomorrow and I should be alright.” In third was Gee Atherton (Animal-Commencal), at 8.99 seconds.
Top Canadian was Steve Smith (MS Evil Racing) in 11th place, 13.85 seconds back. “I had a good run but I had a little mechanical. My fault completely. I wasn't conservative at all and unfortunately I bashed a big rock in the middle of the trail. I bent my chainring and dropped my chain. I'll do better tomorrow. It's a good track but it's demanding. It's hard on the arms and it's mentally tough because you're thinking and planning the whole way down.”
Three other Canadians made it through to the final besides Smith - Dean Tennant (65th), Simon Garstin (71st) and Kyle Marshall (74th). Canadian national champion Hans Lambert (Norco) was 97th and does not move on to the Final.
Another name of note in men's qualifying is former pro Shaun Palmer, who qualified 76th.
The 4-Cross is second event, only a few hours after the Downhill on Saturday night. The course has been completely rebuilt as a test run for the world championships next year, and rider reports put it as one of the most technically demanding of the year, with rock gardens and stream crossings to test the riders. This is now a permanent course and will be used for the World Championships in 2010 according to Drouin.
Impressions gained from seeing the lower part of the course is that it is much wider, yielding more opportunities to pass. As in the past, the bottom section of the course is shared with the downhill and has to be classed as wide open.
On the other hand, the racers will have to be in shape because they are going to really have to pedal hard in the middle part of the course. The gravity assist is high at the top of the course, but the middle is going to require great fitness.
There is now also a rock garden in the middle of the course, something that is new for MSA. According to defending World Cup champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center), “I really like the new course. It is much more mountain-bikey than ever before. And the rock garden in the middle is going to make it very interesting. There's lots of places to pass and the surface that they have put down will hold up well even if it rains.”
As noted by Beerten, drainage has been a priority. You just can't have a course unrideable if it rains. There's much more gravel than we've ever seen here, drainage channels and more. After this race, work will continue on the course in anticipation of next year. Grass will be seeded and other measures taken to combat erosion.
In men's World Cup standings, Jared Graves (Yeti) holds a 224 point lead over Dutchman Joost Wichman, with Roger Rinderknecht (GT Bicycles) a further 16 points in arrears. But anything can happen in this extreme sport, so Graves cannot rest too easy with three rounds still remaining.
The women's side is possibly the tightest World Cup race of the year, as former world champion and Olympic BMX bronze medalist Jill Kintner of the United States holds a slim five point lead over defending World Cup champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre). In the last round, these two riders crashed each other out - what will happen this time?
Finally, attention turns to the cross-country on Sunday, and cross-country is Queen at Mont Ste Anne, as local favourite Premont looks to score another victory on her home track in front of family and friends. Premont started the season slowly, and is only ninth in the overall standings, but here she is the overwhelming favourite, and has been building all season to win.
She will go up against World Cup leader and world champion Marga Fullana (Massi), as well as round one winner Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost). Another name to watch will be fellow Canadian Catharine Pendrel (Luna), who is world number one ranked, and recently stripped Premont of her national title after six years. One high profile absence is Olympic champion Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost) who is still fighting a bug that has been plaguing her all season.
The men's race, while lacking the local excitement, will provide a fitting finale to the weekend, as World Cup leader and Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) tries for his fourth consecutive victory. Absalon has an almost unassailable lead in the overall standings, but a number of riders have been showing good form of late, including Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida), who recently won the European championships, and his team mate Jose Hermida who took silver and won round one of the World Cup. Others to watch include German Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak-Ergon), who is second in the standings, and world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized), who is looking for his first win of the year. One absence for the men is Mathias Fluckinger (Trek World Racing).
Another star to watch is the course itself. After walking most of the circuit we've come to the conclusion that it is a magnificent revamp of a classic course and very different from recent years. We recognized elements from the 1998 World Championships. The changes start with something that hasn't been experienced here in ages - no start loop. The first lap will be perhaps 200m shorter as the first two sections of technical trail are dropped in favour of an access road climb to string out the pack.
From here it goes into a section of wicked twisty, turny, up and down singletrack, with out of the saddle short climbs to sap energy. For the first time in ages we saw groups of pros stopped in the forest trying to figure out how to ride some portions. It's old school in many ways and quite technical, and is sure to be a spectator favourite.
The course then loops back on itself and brings the racers back down close to the start/finish. After this, it traverses the ski hill leading into the traditional gravel road climb to the high point of the course. Then things change radically. The old downhill section is gone, replaced by a quite frightening berm filled descent into a rock garden right under the ski gondola. It's steep enough that there are hay bales and foam pads on the downhill side of this section. According to Pendrel it's not as bad as it looks. “The first time scares you, but then it becomes a lot easier. I think it's actually easier than the old downhill because there's no roots.” Even with the changes, Pendrel expects the course to only be 2 or 3 minutes longer.
Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) commented “I really like the extra climbing this year.”
Course length is touch over 5.7km. Although not finalized, expect 5 or 6 laps for the men and 4 for the women. The final distance will be set tomorrow, and it all depends upon the weather. Rain is expected tomorrow and it could create lots of problems.
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